The best teen films are universal. It doesn't matter that the fictional Huntington Hills High in 'Can't Hardly Wait' is a bit too homogeneous (and filled with far better-looking kids) than the schools we likely attended in our youth. Nor that the big, final blow-out party that the graduating class in the film attends probably wouldn't enjoy such a cross-section of disparate types and personalities. What matters in a teen film like 'Can't Hardly Wait' is that by creating a recognizable microcosm of teen life and plopping it squarely in the middle of Anytown, U.S.A., it allows all of us to see some aspect of our own high school experience reflected back at us. 'Can't Hardly wait is a fine example of this, a movie that may be slight in plot but makes up for it with subtle insight and likeable, winning characters.
Written and directed by Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfront, 'Can't Hardly Wait' takes place entirely during a single night, and with many subplots and side stories interwoven throughout. Our main protagonists are probably everygirl Denise (Lauren Ambrose), who isn't really the party type but tags along with her sorta-dorky best friend Preston (Ethan Embry) because he's had a long-standing crush on the most beautiful girl in school, Amanda Beckett (Jennifer Love Hewitt). Preston has a note that he's written for Amanda, and is planning to finally profess his love, especially now that her relationship with her jerky jock boyfriend Mike Dexter (Peter Facinelli) is on the rocks.
Meanwhile, uber-geek William ('Hook's Charlie Korsmo) has his sights set on Dexter, only in a different way. He's been at the mercy of the jock's torments for years, and tonight will finally see William stage his comeuppance. Throughout all of this is poor Kenny (Seth Green), aka Vanilla Ice-lite, who is just about as cool as the "Ice Ice Baby" superstar. In classic teen movie fashion, Kenny just wants to lose his virginity, and he'll spend all night trying to do it. As all of these characters' paths converge, they'll learn some painful teen lessons, forge new friendships, and even find their romantic dreams fulfilled in unexpected ways.
'Can't Hardly Wait' works as a contained (and far less ambitious) version of 'American Graffiti.' It's got the same rambling, cross-cutting narrative style, which helps give the film a loose and natural energy (it's no surprise to learn on the supplements that a great deal of improv happened on the set). Nothing of grand relevance really happens, nor is this a slice of life filled with small, dramatic moments. The film merely depicts an event that, because we understand the end of high school will ultimately be of far more significance than these kids are yet able to realize, takes on a narrative weight by virtue of our own hindsight. That gives 'Can't Hardly Wait' a wistful nostalgia almost by accident, and in spite of its own slightness.
The film is also knowing about the conventions of the teen film, which gives it a post-modern panache. Elfront and Kaplan were no doubt inspired by the classic John Hughes films of the '80s as they crib parts from all of his films, from the geeky party shenanigans of 'Sixteen Candles' to the more somber, introspective characterizations of 'The Breakfast Club,' to the romantic pathos of 'Pretty in Pink.' That 'Can't Hardly Wait' was produced at the end of the '90s is fitting, too, as it is to the teen films of the '80s what 'Scream' was to the teen slasher flicks of the same era. 'Can't Hardly Wait' is minor yet arguably more influential than it's given credit for. The film made a pastiche of familiar genre conventions but updated it with a then-hip young cast and self-knowing character humor of the kind that would later be mined by such hit teen TV series as 'Dawson's Creek,' 'The OC' and today's 'Gossip Girl.'
Like any good teen film, 'Can't Hardly Wait' is fun to watch simply because it takes recognizable character types and gives them relatable stories. There are few of us that can't recognize the kids in the film, and who can't remember that last big blow-out of high school before the anxieties and disappointments of the adult world beckoned. That 'Can't Hardly Wait' enjoys such a great cast of now-recognizable faces only makes it more resonant. While this isn't a truly classic teen film -- it just doesn't tackle the kind of meaty concerns to grant it iconic status -- it's definitely one of the better the genre has seen in recent years. Here's one '90s teen flick that's worth revisiting.
Sony celebrates the 10th anniversary of 'Can't Hardly Wait' with a new 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer. It's a nice little remaster, which handles the undemanding material with aplomb.
The source has held up nicely. There are no major print flaws or much in the way of dirt or grain. Black levels are firm, and contrast is nicely modulated with little of the harshness that can mar the transfers of more modern films. The result is a natural and pleasing presentation with well-saturated colors. The palette isn't exceptionally vivid, but it's clean and stable. Fleshtones are also largely accurate. Detail isn't incredibly impressive, but it's more than adequate for the material. There is some softness throughout, but the image remains sharp. There are also no issues with artifacts, so this is clean encode. Sony has done a nice job with 'Can't Hardly Wait.'
Also new for 'Can't Hardly Wait' is an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit). The material is hardly challenging, so the addition of the high-res audio doesn't provide a huge boost over the previous DVD.
Surround use isn't incredibly active, but it's consistent thanks to the film's party atmosphere. The extensive pop/rock songs are nicely bled throughout, and if there are infrequent uses of discrete effects, the sustained ambiance is very pleasant. Dynamic range doesn't deliver incredibly deep low bass or spacious, soaring highs, but the material hardly requires it. Dialogue is quite cluttered, but background never intrudes upon the main action -- the mix remains well balanced. The source elements are also clean and polished, so there are no anomalies or other defects. 'Can't Hardly Wait' sounds very nice for an unassuming teen comedy.
Sony provides a mix of something old and something new for this impressive special edition of 'Can't Hardly Wait.' All of the extras from the previous DVD are here, plus a wealth of new retrospective materials featuring the participation of key cast and crew. Video quality is appropriately mixed and matched between full 1080 HD (on the new material), and standard 480p/i/MPEG-2. There are also optional English, French and Spanish subtitles provided.
'Can't Hardly Wait' is a sweet-natured teen comedy, one that refreshingly opts for romantic pathos rather than low-brow humor. This anniversary Blu-ray is a nice celebration, with very good video and audio, and entertaining new supplements. This disc is well recommended for 'Can't Hardly Wait' fans, and worth a rent if you just enjoy a good teen flick.